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Convolutional Neural Network in TensorFlow with CIFAR10 images

With the Python library Tensorflow, we can easily build a Convolutional Neural Network that we possibly use, for example, to classify images. In a previous article, we had looked at how such a Convolutional Neural Network works in theory. Now we want to create and train it.

Data Set

Tensorflow has a wide variety of datasets that we can download and use with just a few lines of code. This is especially helpful when you want to test new models and their implementation and therefore do not want to search for appropriate data for a long time. In addition, Google also offers a dataset search, with which one can find a suitable dataset within a few clicks.

For our exemplar Convolutional Neural Network, we use the CIFAR10 dataset, which is available through Tensorflow. The dataset contains a total of 60,000 images in color, divided into ten different image classes, e.g. horse, duck or truck. We note that this is a perfect training dataset as each class contains exactly 6,000 images. In classification models, we must always make sure that every class is included in the dataset an equal number of times, if possible. For the test dataset we take a total of 10,000 images and thus 50,000 images for the training dataset.

Each of these images is 32×32 pixels in size. The pixels in turn have a value between 0 and 255, where each number represents a color code. Therefore, we divide each pixel value by 255 so that we normalize the pixel values to the range between 0 and 1.

# Library for plotting the images and the loss function
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# We import the data set from tensorflow and build the model there
import tensorflow as tf
from tensorflow.keras import datasets, layers, models

# Download the data set
(train_images, train_labels), (test_images, test_labels) = datasets.cifar10.load_data()

# Normalize pixel values between 0 and 1
train_images, test_images = train_images / 255.0, test_images / 255.0

To check that all images are displayed correctly, we print the first ten images including the class they belong to. Since these are only 32×32 images, they are relatively blurry, but you can still tell which class they are part of.

# Define the 10 image classes
class_names = ['airplane', 'automobile', 'bird', 'cat', 'deer',
               'dog', 'frog', 'horse', 'ship', 'truck']

# Show the first 10 images
for i in range(10):
Das Bild zeigt die ersten 10 Bilder aus dem CIFAR10 Datensatz, den wir zur Erstellung des Convolutional Neural Networks nutzen,
CIFAR10 Bilder

Build a Convolutional Neural Network

In Tensorflow we can now build the Convolutional Neural Network by defining the sequence of each layer. Since we are dealing with relatively small images we will use the stack of Convolutional Layer and Max Pooling Layer twice. The images have, as we already know, 32 height dimensions, 32 width dimensions, and 3 color channels (red, green, blue).

The Convolutional Layer uses first 32 and then 64 filters with a 3×3 kernel as filter and the Max Pooling Layer searches for the maximum value within a 2×2 matrix. If you are still unfamiliar with this approach, you are welcome to read the theoretical article on Convolutional Neural Networks again.

model = models.Sequential()
model.add(layers.Conv2D(32, (3, 3), activation='relu', input_shape=(32, 32, 3)))
model.add(layers.MaxPooling2D((2, 2)))
model.add(layers.Conv2D(64, (3, 3), activation='relu'))
model.add(layers.MaxPooling2D((2, 2)))

After these two stacks, we have already reduced the dimensions of the images significantly, to 6 height pixels, 6 width pixels, and a total of 64 filters. With a third and final convolutional layer, we reduce these dimensions further to 4x4x64. Before we now build a fully meshed network from this, we replace the 3×3 matrix per image, with a vector of 1024 elements (4*4*64), without losing any information.

Now we have sufficiently reduced the dimensions of the images and can add one more hidden layer with a total of 64 neurons before the model ends in the output layer with the ten neurons for the ten different classes.

model.add(layers.Conv2D(64, (3, 3), activation='relu'))
model.add(layers.Dense(64, activation='relu'))


Model: "sequential"
 Layer (type)                Output Shape              Param #   
 conv2d (Conv2D)             (None, 30, 30, 32)        896       
 max_pooling2d (MaxPooling2D  (None, 15, 15, 32)       0         
 conv2d_1 (Conv2D)           (None, 13, 13, 64)        18496     
 max_pooling2d_1 (MaxPooling  (None, 6, 6, 64)         0         
 conv2d_2 (Conv2D)           (None, 4, 4, 64)          36928     
 flatten (Flatten)           (None, 1024)              0         
 dense (Dense)               (None, 64)                65600     
 dense_1 (Dense)             (None, 10)                650       
Total params: 122,570
Trainable params: 122,570
Non-trainable params: 0

The model with a total of 122,570 parameters is now ready to be built and trained.

Compile and Train the Model

Before we can start training the Convolutional Neural Network, we have to compile the model. In it we define which loss function the model should be trained according to, the optimizer, i.e. according to which algorithm the parameters change, and which metric we want to be shown in order to be able to monitor the training process.


history =, train_labels, epochs=10, 
                    validation_data=(test_images, test_labels))

Evaluate the Model

After training the Convolutional Neural Network for a total of 10 epochs, we can look at the progression of the model’s accuracy to determine if we are satisfied with the training.

plt.plot(history.history['accuracy'], label='accuracy')
plt.plot(history.history['val_accuracy'], label = 'val_accuracy')
plt.ylim([0.5, 1])
plt.legend(loc='lower right')
Der Graph zeigt die Trainings- und Validationgenauigkeit eines CNN Modells nach 10 Epochen Trainingszeit.
CNN Training- und Validation-Genauigkeit

Our prediction of the image class is correct in about 80% of the cases. This is not a bad value, but not a particularly good one either. If we want to increase this even further, we could have the Convolutional Neural Network trained for more epochs or possibly configure the dense layers even differently.

This is what you should take with you

  • Convolutional neural networks can be programmed in just a few steps using Tensorflow.
  • It is important to adjust the arrangement of the convolutional and max-pooling layers to each different use case.
  • This article is based on the example of Tensorflow.
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